increasing numbers of America's young soldiers pay the ultimate price in
the heart of darkness that is post-Saddam Iraq, it surely must be more and
more difficult for Americans to stomach what appears to be the obstinacy
and incompetence of the Bush administration policy there.
Every day it seems, not only is the blood of more American service personnel
being spilt in Iraq, but the ferocity of the opposition to the American presence
is increasing. What's worse, America's leader -- so eloquent and clear in
articulating his response to the 9/11 terrorist attack -- now seems incapable
of calmly and purposefully talking to the American people -- detailing the
reasons why American forces are in Iraq and why they must stay there.
Instead, in an act of tragic hubris, America's president increasingly retreats
into cowboy-movie soundbites of defiance that not only debase the coinage
of his cause but discredit his message. And although poorly planned and
tragically mismanaged, the American "occupation" of Iraq continues unaltered
as if nothing has changed since the day triumphant American tanks paraded
through the streets of Baghdad.
At heart, America is an idealistic and pragmatic nation. Whether it was
the battle to dislodge the savage Nazi chokehold on continental Europe, to
avenge the unprovoked Japanese rape of East Asia and attack on Pearl Harbor,
or to push back the ever-expanding icy hand of Soviet totalitarianism, Americans
have always responded with enthusiasm and determination to their leaders'
calls to action in the name of freedom and international justice.
As far as Iraq is concerned, nothing has really changed in that department.
The original war against Saddam was a just one, and the majority of Americans
responded positively to the Bush administration's initiative to overthrow
the menace of Saddam Hussein's murderous dictatorship.
Similarly, the American intent in post-Saddam Iraq is also just. And when
it comes to the basic goal of bringing some version of political democracy,
freedom and the promise of a better life to the Iraqi people, Americans have
expressed similar support.
The problem is that the justifiable pride of the Bush administration in
America's bold military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq appears to have
blinded the administration's leadership to the realities of the moment in
Iraq and in the American heartland. Perhaps overly buoyed by success on
the battlefield -- and succumbing to the inevitable hubris of the victor
-- vanity and haughtiness have replaced caution and humility in the Bush
administration's conduct of the peace.
An insensitivity to American lives lost, a reluctance to carefully explain
and justify current policy, and an inflexibility in militarily responding
to the changing threat in Iraq, are justifiably turning Americans away from
support for the U.S. peace effort in Iraq. And certainly, the irresponsible
attempt of the Democratic leadership to equate Iraq with Viet Nam is starting
to resonate with a demoralized and war-weary public.
In fact, diplomatically and militarily, Iraq is no Viet Nam. But in terms
of the increasingly insensitive, intractable and defiant conduct of the Bush
administration during the post-Saddam era, the American effort is increasingly
mirroring the tragic hubris and follies of the Johnson administration during
the Viet Nam War.
Simply put, it's time for members of the Bush administration to abandon
their self-righteous sense of being the anointed ones and come down to earth
again. It's time for the President to shake off his political handlers,
face current realities, and draw on his innate decency to publicly comfort
the families of America's fallen heroes, as well as to encourage an outpouring
of sympathy and support for them by the American people.
It's also time to remind the families of the fallen -- as well as all military
personnel remaining in Iraq, and the American people -- why American forces
are in Iraq and the ideals that they are fighting for.
And it's time to make dramatic changes on the ground in Iraq, whether beefing
up intelligence capabilities, adding more troops, or implementing more effective
anti-terrorist countermeasures -- even if these measures underscore the mistaken
rigidities of previous Defense Department policies in Iraq.
Americans have always been willing to make sacrifices in the service of
the greater good -- just so long as they have had confidence in the decision
making of their leaders. And until the rigid, insensitive rhetoric of current
administration spokespersons is replaced by a flexible commitment to restoration
of American military competency in Iraq -- even if the rigid orthodoxies
(and reputations) of the current Defense Department establishment must be
repudiated -- then ordinary Americans will find it difficult not to believe
that America is indeed heading for another Viet Nam, as argued by a cynical
and manipulative Democratic opposition.
But even more is required from the current Bush administration leadership.
After all, Americans have always been a people who respond to an appeal to
their idealistic side. And a strong case can be made for the American intervention
and current presence in Iraq. It's just a long time since the American public
has heard an impassioned and heartfelt justification of such actions from
their President or representatives of his administration.
Enough with the cowboy soundbites. It's time to treat the American public
as grownups, and explain the rationale for the Bush administration's recent
foreign-policy actions in a thorough and reasoned manner.
And what kind of things could the President or his spokespersons talk about?
Well, aside from reminding Americans again of the savage, inhumane mistreatment
of ordinary Iraqis by Saddam Hussein, which was ended only by American intervention
-- while other nations passively looked away or profited from dealing with
the Hussein regime -- it's also probably worth reminding Americans, in detail,
of the United Nations' past condemnations of Saddam's long history of destructive
weapons development, as well as the threat that Saddam's chemical, biological
and nuclear weapons-making infrastructure posed to his neighbors and ultimately
to the United States (via terrorists utilizing Saddam-supplied weapons).
In that regard, I suggest you review my past Iconoclast opinion piece, AMERICA'S JUST WAR: What The NY Times Doesn't Want You To Know About It!
As a reminder of the issues involved, here's a brief quote from that commentary:
"Contrary to what the New York Times
and liberal Democrats would have you believe, the Bush administration's war
against Saddam was a just one. It was based on the premise that Saddam had
breached several UN resolutions warning him against attempting to create
WMDs that potentially could threaten Iraq's many neighbors, or end up in
the hands of terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda (which would use them
to strike at American cities). And it hinged on a reality-based foreign policy
that assumed that unless Saddam himself were overthrown, this autocratic
megalomaniac would inevitably return to the task of creating fearsome chemical,
biological and nuclear weapons once the United Nations was put off the scent.
With regard to the current "occupation" of Iraq, a recent column by Toronto Globe & Mail columnist
Margaret Wente, reporting from Iraq, reminds us just how noble and idealistic
Americans can be -- and just how pragmatic they can be in implementing those
ideals. The opinion piece is entitled Nation-Building On The Double, and is well worth reading as a tonic to all the Democratic Party naysaying.
After the events of 9/11, President George W. Bush could not put the lives
of thousands (if not millions) more Americans at risk, by letting this happen."
As Ms. Wente saliently points out:
months ago, Capt. Michael Burns, age 25, was a U.S. Apache attack-helicopter
pilot. Now his assignment is nation-building. He's fixing schools, piping
water, and helping settle land disputes.
Maybe all that talk about "ugly Americans" has been exaggerated. As Margaret Wente, on assignment in Iraq, also notes:
'I love it,' he says. 'I wouldn't trade this job for any job in the world right now.'
They love him back. At the girls' Kurdish primary school in the Kurdish-Arab
town of Makhmur, the tall black soldier is mobbed by a gang of giggly eight-year-olds.
The school had nothing before the army came -- not a single desk -- that
wasn't broken. Now it boasts new furniture, a computer, a copying machine,
a TV and a fridge, as well as brand-new traditional instruments for music
is not the army of your favourite army sitcom. The officers of the 101st
Airborne are sophisticated, entrepreneurial, very dedicated, and very, very
smart. They didn't wait for someone to send them money to get started. Instead
they're using Saddam's money. They found piles of it in his palaces, and
figured this is a good way to return it to the people.
Finally, to summarize what America is and can be all about, we again quote
Margaret Wente, writing in Canada's "national newspaper:"
They didn't wait for Bechtel to show up. They're finding their own contractors.
Capt. Burns's tiny outfit, based in Makhmur, has spent $440,000 so far.
They're having water pipes put in, and they've built a big park with swings
and slides. They've refurbished the police station and the mayor's office.
Their biggest project is a model village where Kurds and Arabs will live
side by side."
it's war or peace, this is what the 101st has been superbly trained to do
-- tackle problems, figure out how to solve them, be creative with what they've
got, and never say it can't be done. This is as impressive a group of people
as you'll ever meet. And they believe deeply in what they're doing.
These are the kinds of things that President George W. Bush must talk about to the American people. And soon.
'Forgive me for sounding corny, but maybe we can plant the seed of democracy
here,' says Mike Mittlebeeler, a 27-year old Apache pilot who was shot down
during the war and lived to tell about it. He believes the seed is already
beginning to sprout. 'We used to do everything ourselves. Now the Iraqis
are working with us. They're picking up the ball.' They're optimistic. But
they acknowledge that this part is much, much harder than the war."
Sometimes the Karl Roves of the world just aren't needed. Instead, a leader
must talk honestly to his people from the heart -- about real ideals and
about what really matters.
Perhaps then the light of hope and freedom will one day illuminate the heart of darkness that is present-day Iraq.
Murray Soupcoff is the author of Canada 1984 and a former radio and television producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He is the Managing Editor of The Iconoclast.
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